The Road from Charity to Social Justice That Runs Through Chad Houser’s Kitchen

Interview by Billy Shore

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

How do you get kids from juvenile detention on track for success? Chef and Café Momentum Executive Director Chad Houser talks with Billy Shore about building a new model for juvenile justice that develops career and life skills to overcome recidivism and reincarceration. “The juvenile justice industry calls them ‘throw-away’ youth. We need to be pushing as hard as we can to change that narrative and eradicate that stereotype,” says Houser. He sold his former restaurant and created Café Momentum, a full-service Dallas restaurant that provides year-long internships for young people coming out of juvenile detention. “The thing they’re learning is what are their strengths, what are their interests, what are they good at. For the first time in their lives, they’re getting to learn positive things about themselves,” he explains.

Houser plans to expand Café Momentum to 30 cities over the next ten years. “We’re not just expanding a program, but expanding the idea of what juvenile justice should look like in our country. We address the social-emotional needs and build the ecosystem of support around them so they can truly achieve their full potential,” he says. Café Momentum is consistently rated one of the best restaurants in Dallas and the interns are on track for a 100% high school graduation rate. “It proves that the young men and women in our program can and will rise to whatever level of expectation is set for them, as long as we’re giving them the tools and resources and opportunity to do so,” says Houser.

Resources and Mentions:

Chad Windham

Chad Houser

Executive Director
Chad Houser is the executive director of Café Momentum, which teaches life, social and employment skills to Dallas’ most at-risk youth. After 17 years as a chef, Houser sold his partnership of Parigi Restaurant in 2012 to devote his full attention to the role. In 2020, he co-founded Momentum Advisory Collective, a non-profit organization built to scale Café Momentum and a new model for juvenile justice across the country. In the Dallas community, where he resides, Houser is a member of the El Centro College Food and Hospitality Institute “Hall of Fame” and currently serves on the Dallas County Community College District Foundation Board of Directors. Houser was featured in the Starbucks production of Upstanders Season 2, a series created to shine a light on stories of everyday Americans who are doing extraordinarily courageous things. In March of 2018, Houser was named a CNN Hero.

Café Momentum

Café Momentum provides a transformative experience through a 12-month paid post-release internship program for young men and women coming out of juvenile facilities. They rotate through all aspects of the restaurant, focusing on life and social skills, coaching and development. The restaurant is equal parts dining room and classroom: While the Interns are working on providing thoughtful dishes with top-notch service, they’re also learning that they can (and will) rise to whatever level of expectation is set for them. The Café Momentum experience proves that something as simple as breaking bread can change the lives of our most marginalized youth.